How to Learn a Foreign Language for Free

By Bulent Yusuf on at

In the modern hustle-bustle of 21st century living, there's every chance that work, study or romance will take you overseas into another country. If you want to make a good impression, it doesn't hurt to bone up on your foreign language skills, and what’s more, it’s easy to do without spending a penny.

Thanks to the magic of the electronic interwebs, all you need is a computer with an internet connection, or even just a smartphone. Here's six of the best online services for learning a foreign language:


BBC Languages

Once upon a time, good old Auntie Beeb had invested your license-fee money in a portal for learning languages. A whopping 40 of them. Funding cuts meant that the site could no longer be maintained, but they left it up for reference. Lucky for us that they did; the basic principles of learning a language never go out of date, and this site contains a multitude of resources for learning at all levels. Link.



Learn your vocabulary in stages, then build it into simple sentences though reading, writing, listening and speaking, with loads of grammar tips along the way. Confidence is boosted by progressing through a “Skill Tree”, plus an “Immersion” resource with genuine reading materials and a translation option for difficult passages. Language courses are available in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese and English, and you can share your progress with friends via Facebook. Link.



Named after a language spoken in Cameroon, the lessons on Busuu offer vocabulary and phrases supported by a variety of games and activities. Take basic lessons for free in 12 languages, where you can interact with native speakers and have your work graded by them. And if you fork out for premium membership (9 euros per month), you can also access additional features like video units and printable PDF files. Link.



A brilliant initiative by the Open University, OpenLearn provides educational resources that allows you to sample the same courses that their registered students are taking – for free. This includes eight language courses, which offer a range of structured courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced. There’s also the benefit of topical and interactive content derived from the Open University’s programmes on BBC television and radio. Link.



An extremely effective site for vocabulary memorisation. It uses mnemonic flashcards, or “mems”, based on your pre-existing knowledge to help you learn new words. The German flashcard for “Danke”, for example, is a cartoon of a banker named “Dan”... Geddit? The science behind the learning method is robust (one of the cofounders of the site is a former memory champion), but because the courses for each language are crowd-sourced, the quality can sometimes vary. Link.



This is perhaps the slickest and most comprehensive online resource currently available. The lessons in your chosen language – choose from 35 – are broken down into target skills, with reading, writing, speaking and listening studied in separate modules. Livemocha describes their method as “whole-part-whole”, where the lessons present new concepts, break them down into chunks, and then reassemble the parts so the student can apply what they’ve learned. There’s a premium membership for extra features but, and this is clever, you can earn credits for these by tutoring other students in your native language. Link.

This week, we're expanding minds and dispensing some of Gizmodo UK's favourite tips, with a "how to" theme week, in association with O2 Guru TV. Bookmark this page for all related features.